Copenhagen is classic – the compact city, brick buildings, homey family atmosphere, and the warm-hearted people. One must be prepared to find herself in a fairy-tale wonderland when visiting the city.
Rather than being alone in Germany and spending the year-end school break with hardly anyone, as most people have already gone home to celebrate Christmas with their family, I decided to venture up north and have a short holiday on my own.
When I told my friends about this plan, I saw some raised eyebrows and a look that says: “Really, you’re going further North? German’s weather is not cold enough for you?”
Yes, Copenhagen is colder, as generally is with the Scandinavian region. But there’s a certain magnet about the city that draws me back again and again. And since part of the reasons for my being away in this short trip was to to share Christmas celebration traditionally with a local family, somehow I had a feeling that Copenhagen would give me a classic Christmas joyous atmosphere. I thought of a white Christmas, a city bathed in lights, a quaint market selling homemade cooking and handicrafts, and children caroling. And that's how I decided to go.
The Magical Park of Tivoli Garden
I arrived early in Copenhagen a few days before Christmas to have a better experience of the pre-Christmas pace and spirit. Visiting Christmas market was high on my list! I learned that the biggest one is the Christmas market in the Tivoli Garden, Copenhagen’s signature family amusement park. Oh my, it was love at first sight!
Tivoli Garden is normally closed during winter except for special occasions like Halloween and Christmas, when they open for a few days. For Christmas, they really go all out with the decorations to impress visitors and make the night unforgettable. Picture this: trees stripped of their leaves by the bitter winter being wrapped in Christmas lights, visitors path decorated with light tunnels, hanging lanterns everywhere, as were dimmed romantic lamps and candle spots.
Of course, one can’t fully experience Christmas without seeing Christmas trees, Santa and the reindeers. In Tivoli, Christmas trees radiated elegant glow from the lights, and at one corner, visitors can find Santa’s house along with the reindeers set up in the adjacent open-air shed.
Christmas market stalls competed to become the most visually attractive. Impressed with the overall ambiance, many times it left me speechless.
Then there was all the food. I was overwhelmed with the varieties. If only I had more money (and space in my tummy), I would’ve tried them all. Glogg (mulled wine, or heated red wine with fruit and spices), aebleskiver (Danish sweet pancake balls) and lumomba (a typical semi-alcoholic winter beverage) are just some of the local favorites.
I was “forced” to leave the park when they had to close. I left reluctantly, realizing I’d been there for over 3 hours, three times longer than my initial plan. I guess that’s what a fairy-tale land does to you: make you forget about everything else as you get caught up in the moment.
The Danish family I stayed with also had their big Christmas family dinner on the night of 24 December. Roasted duck with gravy sauce, roasted pork belly, red cabbage and caramelized potatoes were the night's main course. We had caviar and smoked-salmon canapés for appetizer, and sweetened rice with almond and warm cherry sauce for dessert. Bottles of Champagne and red wine kept the liquid flowing.
Once the dinner was finished, we gathered around the Christmas tree. The children couldn’t wait to unwrap their presents under the tree.
But, wait! Suddenly, we heard the sound of a bell, and someone laughing “ho-ho-ho”. Santa Claus appeared at the door. The children were excited and grinning from ear to ear. They anxiously awaited what Santa had to say (or give) to them. There is nothing more entertaining than seeing children’s jolly expression, but I have to admit, I was stunned myself seeing the fat-belly red-hat man, having never celebrated nor been “entertained” by Santa during Christmas.
Before we open the presents, the Danish have a tradition of going round the Christmas tree. All family members must hold hand and circling the tree while singing and hopping together to cheerful traditional Christmas songs. Of course I didn’t know the lyrics, so I hummed along. I can’t remember the last time I sang and jumped with family members. It was both awkward and delightful.
The snow might be missing that night, but it was a magical night still. It reminds me of a quote by Hans Christian Andersen, the famous Danish children books author. "Everything you look at can become a fairy tale and you can get a story from everything you touch."
Copenhagen’s cold weather was compensated by the warmth of its people. One day, I know I will be back to this jolly wonderland.
About Asanti Astari
Asanti Astari is currently studying World Heritage Studies in Germany. She hopes it will lead to a career path that will allow her to work in any part of the world as she pleases. In between studies, she fulfills her wanderlust by disguising her travels as an exploration of cultural diversity in preparation of the real working world.